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Arizona's most populous county becomes gun 'sanctuary'

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Arizona's most populous county on Wednesday joined a growing national movement in which areas are declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and proclaiming support for gun ownership rights.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted in Phoenix to declare the county a “Second Amendment Preservation County,” following dozens of counties nationwide and four others in Arizona that have approved similar symbolic resolutions meant to stave off gun-control policies that could be seen as unconstitutional.

The resolution in Maricopa County, which has about 4.4 million residents, simply says the board supports the right to own guns. The proposal lost some of its edge when the board dropped a stipulation that government funds would not be used to infringe on gun rights.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, a Democrat, denounced the politically charged resolution. “Let’s think about this. A resolution should not be divisive," he said. "It should not be partisan.”

Chairman Clint Hickman countered that multiple constituents had expressed support for the sanctuary designation that was first used in 2018 in Illinois and quickly spread to California, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia and other states.

“Sanctuary city” is a term more often associated with cities trying to restrict cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities. Some Second Amendment sanctuary supporters say their decision to use the term was a deliberate knock on Democrats who support immigrant sanctuary cities.

In Arizona, gun owners are already free to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. They can also bypass background checks if they buy their firearms at a gun show. However, federal background checks are required for other purchases.

Minority Democrats in the Arizona Legislature regularly introduce measures to boost gun regulations, including bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, but the bills are routinely defeated.

Gary Larson, a gun owner from Glendale, said he had never spoken at a public forum but felt compelled to comment Wednesday because he fears restrictions that could “clamp down” on his freedoms.

“Protect the rights of gun owners but critique the people who are asking to own guns,” Larson said.

Gun-control activists, including members of Moms Demand Action, slammed the resolution as a “black eye” for the county.

“It feels a little bit like fear-mongering,” Marie Thearle, a member of the group said during the public comment period.

Garrick McFadden, a former Democratic congressional candidate who is black, said the resolution doesn't help communities of color.

"There's 30 handgun deaths in America each day. But 15 of those people are black people that are killed," McFadden said. “One of the things that needs to be done is reaching out to your constituents, not just the ones that came up to you and said they fear their rights are being infringed.”

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Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.